Story by David Brewer
Music is often moving, but only once in a while does it help keep mountains from being moved. That is the hope behind the inaugural Mountain Aid festival, an ambitious effort to directly affect environmental change.
Slated to take place from Friday to Sunday, June 19 to 21, at the Shakori Hills festival grounds just south of Chapel Hill in Chatham County, NC, Mountain Aid is being billed as “a concert to end mountaintop removal and create a clean energy future for North Carolina and beyond.”
Mountain Aid will raise funds for the Pennies of Promise campaign to build a new school for the children of Marsh Fork Elementary. Located in Raleigh County, W. Va., the school sits just 225 feet from a coal loading silo that releases chemical-laden coal dust and 400 yards from a 385-foot tall leaking sludge dam with a nearly 3 billion gallon capacity. According to the Pennies of Promise website, independent studies have shown the school to be full of coal dust.
Headlining the festival will be Grammy Award-winning country artist Kathy Mattea, whose recent release, COAL, deals specifically with the West Virginia native’s many personal ties to the subject. Raised near Charleston, W. Va., her mining heritage runs throughout both sides of the family: both her parents grew up in coal camps, both her grandfathers were miners, and her mother worked for the local United Mine Workers Association union office. Mattea’s father was saved from the mines by an uncle who paid his nephew’s way through college.
The songs on COAL are more than just mining songs. Mattea said she wanted to pay tribute to her place and her people on a record that is as much a textured novel as it is an album. “It’s a coming together of a lot of different threads in my life,” said Mattea on her website.
Other performers include rising cello star Ben Sollee, festival favorites Donna The Buffalo, upbeat reggae-tinged rockers the Sim Redmond Band and more.
When his granddaughter returned home from school sick, Pennies of Promise founder Ed Wiley fought to get the school moved away from the massive neighboring mountaintop removal mine despite government inaction. According to West Virginia state officials, construction of a new school is a fiscal impossibility, but that was not going to keep Wiley and scores of concerned citizens from taking it upon themselves to come to the children’s aid.
To kick off the campaign, Wiley presented West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin with $400 in pennies. He then walked more than 300 miles from his home in Rock Creek, W. Va. all the way to Washington, D.C. to continue the fight. Funds generated by Mountain Aid will help the Pennies of Promise campaign move closer to their goal of $8 million to fund the new school and move the children out of harm’s way.
Wiley’s fight to help his granddaughter’s school was documented in the award-winning Michael O’Connell documentary, Mountaintop Removal. Among its many accolades, the film received the Reel Current Award at the 2008 Nashville Film Festival—an award selected and presented by Al Gore.
Of additional importance is the timing of the event, as the North Carolina assembly will be in session to debate House Bill 2709, a bill to outlaw the use of MTR coal within the state. According to Duke Energy, North Carolina is the second largest consumer of coal mined through mountaintop removal in the nation.
Mountain Aid is sponsored by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OHVEC), a nonprofit organization formed in 1987 whose mission is to organize and maintain a diverse grassroots organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the environment through education, grassroots organizing and coalition building, leadership development and media outreach.
Tickets for Mountain Aid are on sale now. Advance tickets are $22.50 and can be purchased via the event website by clicking to www.mtnaid.com. Tickets at the gate will be $30. Tent camping passes are $10 and vehicle camping passes are $40. For more information, click to www.mtnaid.com.